Ice cream sandwich marketing

The soggy secrets of marketing ice cream in Japan

Do you know what Monaca is?

I didn’t when I first came to Japan, and I was sent here to sell ice cream!

Monaca モナカ is a wafer type of ice cream product except it is fully surrounded by the wafer, unlike most wafer-sandwiches elsewhere in the world.

Cones, wafers and Monaca are similar types of products, they meet an essential consumer need, the contrasting pleasure of crispy wafer and creamy, indulgent ice cream.

Morinaga’s Chocolate Monaca “Jumbo”

In most countries ice cream wafers, cones (and monaca) account for around 10-15% share of impulse (sometimes called ‘novelty’) sales. It’s an important category for manufacturers, far less price sensitive than tubs, a much higher price/litre plus harder for competitors to copy.

Cornetto has been for a long time a pillar brand for Unilever and is present globally, except in Japan…

There are a number of reasons why not. One is that the Unilever ice cream business is not present (except for a license agreement with Viennetta), another is that Japanese rules on coliform bacteria are very strict and it’s technically hard to completely eliminate any trace of such bacteria when making cones (I was once reliably informed…)

Morinaga Seika is a large Japanese confectionery business that also has a number of long selling ice cream novelties. One is a Monoca product branded ‘Jumbo’

Jumbo has been around for over 20 years and is currently being relaunched for this summer’s season. 

Personally I have always found the product delivery of Japanese Monaca products, including Jumbo, to be sub-optimal. The reason is their wafer is often damp, it just doesn’t have the deep crispness of a good cone.

Morinaga say they have been working for 5 years to solve this conundrum. They admit that ‘on the surface’ it’s not a difficult problem to solve, simply add more chocolate coating. What they don’t say, but what is true is that adding more chocolate costs money. Have you checked cocoa prices recently? (They’ve spiked). Morinaga also say that adding a lot more chocolate risks the wafer breaking. In Japan that’s consumer complaint territory.

Jumbo is a big seller – over 200 million units annually – and from what I can tell is made in several plants here, so they have to install the same solution in all factories.

So working with Saitama University they have concocted a better product, they say. Morinaga have taste tested it with multiple rounds of sensory evaluations (a note to clients, even big Japanese companies do a lot of consumer taste test work!), in addition they are pushing to reduce shelf life.

Most food companies default position is to increase shelf life. It makes stock management easier. Have you ever been involved in demand planning for ice cream? I have in several countries and I can tell you it isn’t easy.

Morinaga are aiming to ship the new Monaca within 5 days of manufacture to the trade. Plus are investing in this ‘Jumbo smile’ marketing campaign.

Will it work? I’d better get down to the convenience store to try one!

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